Isaac Deutscher 1966

War in Vietnam

Source: The Times, 1 October 1966. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Sir – What is Mr R Conquest’s purpose in dragging the Katyń affair into his argument (29 September) against Lord Russell on the war in Vietnam? If he merely wanted to say that that dark affair has never been investigated by any impartial body and that the Nuremberg Tribunal administered justice in a manner calculated to suit the immediate convenience of the victors of the Second World War, I, for one, would agree.

All this does not alter the fact that the defendants at the Nuremberg Trials were guilty of unprecedented and unparalleled crimes against humanity. The tragedy was that not a Germany risen in revolt against Nazism pronounced judgement over them, but that representatives of foreign powers, entangled in their inter-Allied diplomacy, had to do it.

However, two – or a thousand – wrongs do not make a right; and to speak of Katyń and the inconsistencies of the Nuremberg Trial in reply to protests against the American war in Vietnam is worse than irrelevant. The war in Vietnam, the suffering it causes and the dangers it casts upon the world, have not yet receded into the past; they are part of the present and overshadow the future. Lord Russell is surely right in reminding the American administration which wages the war in Vietnam of the solemn pledge about war crimes given by American representatives at Nuremberg.

As Lord Russell has explained in these columns, the Tribunal which has been convened on his initiative to consider prima facie evidence about American war crimes in Vietnam, is to be a Commission of Inquiry, claiming no official status for itself. It will perhaps resemble far less the Nuremberg Tribunal than the Commission of Inquiry which nearly 30 years ago sat in judgement over Stalin’s great purges, under the chairmanship of another famous philosopher – John Dewey. The question of the ‘judicial experience’ of ‘Lord Russell’s Tribunal’ need not disturb Mr Conquest, for the tribunal benefits from the services of several lawyers, quite as eminent as any of the Nuremberg lawyers, and completely independent.

I am one of those who, responding to Lord Russell’s appeal, have joined the tribunal, because I feel that Lord Russell and his associates speak in this matter for the conscience of our age. Having in the course of the past two years addressed, in the United States, huge audiences, inter alia tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of students, eager to protest against American intervention in Vietnam, I have no doubt that the activity of our Tribunal will meet with a wide and sensitive response on both sides of the Atlantic and, of course, in many countries of Asia and Africa. But I am appalled by the passivity and apathy of the labour movement over so crucial and fateful an issue.